I shouldn’t read this book, “We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” by Eric Olsen. I knew I shouldn’t but I still did. A lot of things I did in my life, I only did for conformity and convention and survival, which take up huge amount of time and energy. I’ve always thought that with books I have total freedom and autonomy. I read what I want to read. But now I think of it, I’ve been too optimistic about myself. This is the book that I should not read since it is about those native speakers who want to be writers. For a non-native speaker like me, this book doesn’t apply at all. Still I read it. It’s arranged in a non-conventional way, in which each person comes up to talk about his or her Iowa experience for several minutes. At first I didn’t like this kind of arrangement, but after a while I got used to it and even developed a preference to it in the end. If you ask me what I’ve learned from the book, I will say probably “keeping on with your writing” is the loudest of all the advice. No matter what happens, just keep on writing and chasing your dreams until you succeed or die of trying or find solace in Buddhism.
“Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems” by Billy Collins. I started to read this book about five years ago. During a Christmas shopping trip, the book landed in my bag with a big Barnes & Noble discount tag sticking to the front page. Since then, I read one or two poems here and there, often opening the book to a random page and closing the book five minutes later. Two months ago, I suddenly felt an urge for poetry and started to write bad poems. Even bad poems need inspirations and this book was fished out of the corner of the shelf. “A Word About Transitions” will inspire you to write a whole paragraph for the sake of transition just to avoid the simple word like “moreover”; you are reminded by “Last Meal” of a rude waiter in Central Jersey who you have to endure just for the weekly dim sum. Your Asian mentality tells you it’s not your last meal since there will be the next meal after the last and you will come back to kowtow to this sadistic waiter just for the good food. I like the poet’s range and variety and style. He’s the one I always come back to when I am blocked. And I am very often blocked and my block is worse than the New York City traffic jam.
“The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. There are 70 pages to go, but I am at my wits’ end. I can’t endure it any longer. Several years back when I dragged one of my friends to a restaurant to watch an NBA game. He complained every minute of it. The meal was terrible, and the game was even worse. I insisted that we went to cheer for a rising Asian sports star. I wanted to show my ethnic solidarity. My friend despised me for this. He had watched Jordan for years and he hated the fact that he had to cheer for somebody just because he is an Asian. I think I feel the same way about this book just like what my friend felt for that NBA game. The more I read, the more I feel that the author is exercising a form of intellectual flagellation. He writes so well and I admire his writing, but he is using his talent to portray something so depressing. I can understand why Lung, the main character, dislikes his father. Lung has all his first world troubles while his immigrant father, who runs a dry cleaning place, is stuck in his third world mentality. He portrays his father as somebody without style and without taste. And then suddenly he writes pages after pages of his father’s love stories. I can’t imagine anybody would want to read a love story, in which the boy is in such a pitiful condition. I feel bad to be so negative on a book and I’m glad that the author passed away a few years ago–I won’t hurt his feelings with my negative review.